The men’s tennis team spent its spring break competing against regional opponents in warm, sunny Hilton Head, S.C., but now the Bombers are back on South Hill, working together to bring the heat to the Empire 8.
The squad used its time together not only to prepare on the court, but also to bond off the court in its free time. Senior captain Taylor Borda said the week was for more than just tennis.
“We come back a lot closer, especially with the new freshmen, and it’s definitely a tighter-knit group,” Borda said. “Living together down there, playing together, eating meals together … you’re doing everything with each other, every waking moment, whether it’s on a court or getting a meal.”
A typical day for the team over break consisted of a match in the early afternoon followed by free time to hit the beach or go swimming. In the evenings, the teams spent time together watching movies and playing cards and other games.
“During the down time, you bond rather quickly,” Borda said. “The team feels more cohesive throughout the season from spring break on, because you have that week to chill out and play.”
Senior Danny Wolk said the experience allowed the athletes to get to know their teammates on a more personal level.
“It allows us as seniors to get to know the freshmen better, off the court as well as on the court,” Wolk said. “You make good friends, and everyone is more comfortable with each other.”
Wolk said the team bonding will improve the team’s sense of camaraderie and will pay dividends for the squad down the road.
On the court, the men’s squad dominated the competition, winning each match 7–2. During the week, Ithaca played four matches in four straight days, winning all but one that was canceled because of rain. The Blue and Gold played teams from all over the region, including Wheaton College, Dickinson College, College of Wooster and Transylvania University. Junior Josh Rifkin said playing different opponents is good preparation for the upcoming schedule.
Borda and his doubles partner Rifkin have developed a well-documented chemistry over the years, earning a national ranking. The pair won all of their matches in Hilton Head, remaining undefeated on the season.
“It was really important to see that, in the really tight matches, we could mentally stay tough and we could come out on top,” Rifkin said. “We kept on getting the job done. So when we’re in a tight spot like that down the line, it’s going to help us gain confidence in the same type of situation.”
The Bombers worked hard in preparation for the spring season, but they lost their opening match to the University of Rochester in February. Borda said the team was mentally underprepared. Now, after a week of focusing solely on tennis and bonding with teammates, the squad is primed to take the conference by storm.
“The fact that we had four matches in a row really helps us stay on the ball, mentally and physically,” Borda said. “Everyone down the lineup stepped up and did their part.”
While tennis is an individual sport, the team aspect is key for developing skills and a proper mental attitude. Head Coach Bill Austin said the team’s performance on the court is indicative of the athletes’ unity off the court.
“When you see how they’re performing on court, it gives you an idea of how well they’re getting along back on the ranch,” Austin said.
The defending Empire 8 champions return to Ithaca with a strong sense of camaraderie, and are well prepared to tackle their conference schedule.
“The real focus is making sure that you get ready for the upcoming conference season,” Austin said. “We’ve got a good squad, and we need to maintain that confidence and approach every match as the big one.”